Author Interview: Zoë Markham

Last year I did a joint interview with the ace Zoë Markham. It was so much fun that, after I read her latest release White Lies, I knew I needed to talk to her again! Below is the full interview (which originally appeared on Liz Loves Books).

Schools and school life are an important part of both Under My Skin and White Lies. What makes a school such an effective literary setting?

With YA you often hear the ‘Get rid of the parents!’ line. School tends to work really well in this respect because, whether you chose to get rid of the parents or not, it’s one of those environments where it’s all down to you: parents or no parents, from 9am to 3pm you’re on your own.  And of course it’s an environment that’s familiar to all of us, whether we like it or not.

When you started writing White Lies did you already have the twist in mind, or did it (or maybe several different versions of it) occur to you as you went along?

I did always have the twist in mind, but it became one of those areas in which I really had to compromise, because my editor didn’t like the feel of the ending in my first draft. In the end, it went through, I think, three different variations before we found one that worked for both of us. My initial twist, and the one I was rubbing my hands with glee over when I wrote it, all came down to who was driving the car at the end …

I loved the character of Scarlet, she’s so intriguing, so well-written. Have you ever known someone like her in real life?

I went to school with an ‘almost’ Scarlett, which is where she initially came from. She started out as just a very controlling ‘Queen Bee’ figure – the classic Mean Girl really, but again as the initial draft was edited there was a concern that she was perhaps verging on stereotypical. It was great editorial advice as it gave me the chance to think about why Scarlett acted the way she did, and it brought her background and her own story to light. It made her heaps more fun to write – and it’s why editors are brilliant.

How did you get the idea to incorporate a magpie into the story?

I really liked the idea that Abby, never quite making it as one of the ‘cool crowd’, didn’t score the big, dark, brooding raven she’s familiar with from the books she reads. A magpie felt a bit more urban, and a little quirkier – maybe even more British somehow, although I have no idea why. There’s the whole ‘One for sorrow’ aspect, which I thought went well with her character, and I remembered reading somewhere, years ago, about the whole ‘devil’s blood under their tongue’ thing, which I thought was nicely creepy. I’m all for creepy!

As a reader, what kind of story scares you most?

The ones rooted so firmly in everyday experience that they could, potentially, happen to anyone. Ones where you get the ‘That could be me’ paranoia creeping in around the edges as you read.

How have you found the experience of having your stories, your characters and what might be considered an intimate part of yourself out in the world?

Honestly? Terrifying! I’ve been massively, massively fortunate in finding people who’ve connected with both novels and been absolutely lovely about them – but there’s still part of me that seems to always be hiding in the corner, trembling. I tell myself it’s because I care about what I write, and want to get it right, but I also have to admit to the fact that I’m just a giant wimp, in general. I’ve never been the most confident of souls, and I find release days hard. I’m really going to have to try and get over that somehow!

Is there a genre you’d love to write in but haven’t yet had the chance to? Or perhaps one you never would write in?

I would love to write Epic Fantasy, it’s my favourite genre to read and I’ve been sort of plotting ideas of my own on and off for about two decades now. The world-building becomes so complex and immersive in my head though that I have the feeling I’d only ever be able to write Epic at a time when the day-job wasn’t a necessity!

One day! (A girl can dream.)

What’s next for you?

This year I’m really lucky to have two more YA titles coming out, Blood Bank with Kristell Ink, and Headcase with Tenebris. They’re both very different to my Carina titles. Blood Bank is a vampire novel (these aren’t just any vampires, they’re SWINDON vampires!) and Headcase is a deeper and darker journey into teenage mental health, with a bit of a fantasy twist.

White Lies is available now.

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